Adults should have the choice to not wear a helmet when riding on footpaths or off-road cycle paths, Australia’s biggest bike-riding organisation says.
- Bicycle Network wants helmet laws relaxed
- Stance follows 14-month review, including survey of 20,000 people and review of 2,500 academic studies
- Medical body says recommendation a step backwards
Bicycle Network, which has backed mandatory helmet laws since they were introduced in the 1990s, now says they should be altered because current policies “aren’t working”.
They’re recommending these laws be relaxed, with a five-year trial permitting people older than 17 to choose whether they wear a helmet when riding on footpaths or off-road cycle paths.
In all Australian states and the ACT, it is currently mandatory for people to wear a helmet whenever and wherever they ride a bike. The Northern Territory does not have a blanket mandatory helmet law.
It would bring all states and the ACT into line with the Northern Territory, which does not have a blanket mandatory helmet law.
Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards said bike riding was languishing in Australia and a rethink of the helmet policy was needed.
“Australia is one of only two countries in the world with fully enforced mandatory helmet law,” Mr Richards said.
“The number of people who ride a bike isn’t increasing and there has been no decrease in the number of bike-rider fatalities. It’s clear that our bike policies aren’t working, so it’s important that we review everything.
“Our recommendation is to give people the freedom to choose if they wear a helmet in low-risk circumstances, because that’s what bike riding is ultimately all about — freedom.”
“60 per cent of bike riders called for change. They don’t believe they need someone to tell them whether to wear a helmet when they’re going down the beach or going for a slow Sunday pedal on a bike path.”
Mr Richards said they did not believe Australia’s road networks had, “developed to a stage where they can confidently recommend a full repeal of mandatory helmet laws.”
Bicycle Network’s recommendations:
- Mandatory helmet laws should be relaxed with a 5-year trial permitting people older than 17 to decide whether they wear a helmet when riding on footpaths and cycle paths
- Riding a bicycle on the footpath should be made legal for all people in Victoria and NSW so the 5-year trial can be successful. This would bring Victoria and NSW in line with all other states and territories
- More must be done to protect people who ride a bike on the road by reducing and eliminating a key hazard: motor vehicles
“More than 80 per cent of bike-rider crashes are caused by someone driving a car, but sadly, we haven’t seen enough done to reduce interaction between bike and cars,” Mr Richards said.
“Instead of removing the risks and causes of bicycle crashes, the solution has been helmets which, like all personal protection equipment, is the least effective way to prevent injury and reduce risk.”
Bicycle Network announced its change in position following a 14-month policy review, which included survey results from 20,000 people, as a “rapid review of more than 2,500 academic studies”.
More could get hurt if laws relaxed, doctors say
The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) strongly opposed Bicycle Network’s position, calling it a step backwards.
“Everyone who rides bikes deserves the best protection from injury,” Alfred Hospital senior neurosurgeon Jeffrey Rosenfeld said.
“This includes helmets and applies to all ages and all situations.
“RACS will continue to strongly support the compulsory wearing of bicycle helmets based on medical and scientific evidence.”
RACS Trauma Committee chairman John Crozier said there could be more cycle-related injuries if laws were changed.
“Assuming you will not have an accident just because you are older, or because you have chosen a designated bike path, does not mean your ride will be free of an incident,” Dr Crozier said.
“Each year, around 40 cyclists die on Australian roads and around 4,800 are hospitalised. If helmet laws are relaxed we could see this figure increase.
“A proposal like this one only emphasises the need for better education in the area of the impact of trauma, and that more needs to be done to recognise and accept the risk of not wearing helmets.”